Penguins' new GM grew up with hockey

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Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette
The Penguins' new general manager, Ray Shero, at Mellon Arena yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.

Ray Shero

Personal: 43 years old. -- Born in St. Paul, Minn. -- Son of late NHL coach and general manager Fred Shero and grew up around the 1974-75 Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers. -- Married to Karen. Two sons, Christopher, 10, and Kyle, 8.

Playing career: St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. -- Two-time captain. Finished as one of school's top 10 scorers all time. -- Graduated in 1984. -- Drafted by Los Angeles Kings in 1982 but never played professionally.

Professional career: After college, became a player agent for seven years. -- Spent six years as assistant general manager with Ottawa, joining the Senators in their second year . -- Joined Nashville Predators as assistant general manager in December 1998 and has worked in all facets of hockey operation, including contract and arbitration negotiations, scouting and the operation of the team?s top minor-league club.

A school-age Ray Shero would hang around his dad's office -- nothing terribly unusual about that, except the office was wherever the Philadelphia Flyers were playing or practicing.

While the late Fred Shero, who coached the Flyers to Stanley Cup titles in 1974 and '75, went about his business, young Ray would feign keeping busy or playing. In reality, he was listening and learning.

"He had a big influence in my career," Mr. Shero said yesterday after the Penguins introduced the second-generation hockey executive as their new general manager at a Mellon Arena news conference.

"He wasn't a father that pushed me, but he was a father that really encouraged me if I wanted to come to practice -- which I always did, and which my boys like to do now."

One season in particular, 1977-78, when Mr. Shero was barely a teenager, his father's staff consisted of Terry Crisp, who went on to coach Calgary to the Stanley Cup; Pat Quinn, who has since won two Jack Adams Awards as NHL coach of the year; and goaltending coach Jacques Plante, a Hall of Fame member.

"That was the greatest environment growing up," Mr. Shero said.

Mr. Shero never stopped listening and learning. At age 43, he has packed years of experience into his career, and that has prepared him for his role as a rookie general manager.

In addition to his father, Mr. Shero picked up hockey knowledge from men like Nashville Predators general manager David Poile, a longtime NHL executive.

"You got a very good person," said Mr. Poile, who employed Mr. Shero as an assistant general manager the past eight seasons, relying on him to, among other things, help negotiate contracts, scout and manage the Predators' top minor-league club in Milwaukee.

"It's certainly the right time for him," Mr. Poile said.

It's a time that has been in Mr. Shero's sights for years.

When he was a forward playing for St. Lawrence University in the early 1980s, he had aspirations of making it to the NHL, but not necessarily as a player.

"This is what I've worked for for a long time," he said of the Penguins' job. "I remember telling somebody when I was a junior or senior in college that I wanted to be a general manager in the National Hockey League."

And so he is.

Mr. Shero steps to the top of his profession with a long list of admirers -- people he played with, worked with and worked for.

"We would go to his home in New York when they were living there, and we would listen to Fred tell stories. He was so passionate, and so is Ray," said Don Vaughan, a teammate of Mr. Shero at St. Lawrence and now an assistant athletic director and the hockey coach at Cornell.

"He just has a good head for the game."

After graduating, Mr. Shero worked as a hockey agent for seven years. He crossed over to management when another former St. Lawrence teammate, Randy Sexton, who was then general manager of the Ottawa Senators, hired him as an assistant general manager.

One of Mr. Shero's first assignments with the expansion Senators was to strengthen their minor-league system. He dug a little to find center Bruce Gardner, defenseman Lance Pitlick and winger Pavol Demitra to help stock the club's top affiliate on Prince Edward Island.

All three made it to Ottawa, and Mr. Demitra, now with Los Angeles, has become a consistent scorer in the NHL.

When the Senators' power play sagged, Mr. Sexton asked Mr. Shero to go to St. Louis to check out Steve Duchesne.

"He came back with a good report, I made the deal and our power play picked up," Mr. Sexton said. "In fact, Steve Duchesne scored the power-play goal that put us into the playoffs for the first time."

When he moved to Nashville, Tenn., Mr. Shero worked closely with Mr. Poile, whom he called "a mentor and lifelong friend."

The two went the extra mile -- miles, actually -- in August 2003 when they were in Toronto to work out a contract with Predators defenseman Kimmo Timonen and avoid arbitration. It was the afternoon of the great Northeast blackout.

Mr. Poile and Mr. Shero made their way down from a twentysomething floor of a harbor-front hotel, walked uptown to meet Mr. Timonen and his agent at their hotel, negotiated the deal by candlelight in the lobby, then walked in the dark back to their hotel.

It seems Mr. Shero has not just been building a resume, but he also has been assembling a network of good relationships.

"He's a great guy -- smart, sharp, open, easygoing," said Claude Noel, coach of the Milwaukee Admirals.

"He deals with problems head-on, doesn't get rattled. We talk three, four times a day, and he always gave his objective view."

First-year Admirals President Jon Greenberg has a background in baseball and found himself leaning on Mr. Shero a great deal. "He has been the key contact for us for everything that goes on with players, and he's been wonderful," Mr. Greenberg said. "He has a very good knack for finding players."

This season, Mr. Shero dug up third-string goaltender Jake Moreland from a lower minor league. Mr. Moreland was essentially a spare part, but, when Milwaukee hit hard times because of injuries last month, Mr. Moreland stepped in and won the deciding Game 7 in the opening round of the playoffs.

"We're going to miss him for sure," said Mr. Greenberg, and he doesn't mean just Mr. Shero's hockey sense.

"He's very easy to deal with," Mr. Greenberg said. "If you've seen his pictures, he's very photogenic. That smile, it doesn't just come out for photos."

It also comes out when Mr. Shero recalls the heated rivalry between the Flyers and Penguins when he was young.

"When I was a kid in Philadelphia, we used to come here once in a while to play youth hockey and we would come to the Penguins-Flyers games," Mr. Shero said. "That was great, the rivalry and the tradition."

The NHL was different then, much more rough and tumble. The Flyers were known as the Broad Street Bullies. But Mr. Shero learned some valuable things. "They had a team built on youth, camaraderie, enthusiasm and a great goaltender [in Bernie Parent], and I think those things translate to today," he said.

Those are things he continued to value in college, when he was willing to support his teammates in many ways.

"One year at St. Lawrence, Ray didn't play because he was injured. He had a knee injury," Mr. Vaughan said. "My roommate was Paul Castron [now director of player development for the Columbus Blue Jackets]. Ray was our chauffeur that year. He took care of us.

"We never let him forget that. We always say, 'If it doesn't work out in hockey, you can always go back to doing that.' "

Judging from the testimonials, though, Mr. Shero is in the proper driver's seat.


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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